• Carolyn

Salta's high-altitude archaeological museum

Updated: Dec 19, 2019

In my novel, An Argentine in my Kitchen, Catherine reads about the Museo de Arqueología de Alta Montaña or the 'High-Altitude Archaeological Museum,' in Salta, Argentina.

The museum, referred to as the MAAM, is one of the attractions of the city of Salta, which is found in the northern province of the same name. The city of Salta, with its large central square, colonial architecture and great restaurants serves as a perfect base for tourists wishing to visit attractions in Argentina's north-west, such as Tren a las nubes or 'Train to the clouds,' the mountain village of Iruya, the Salinas Grandes or 'Great Salt Flats,' Cachi, a pretty colonial-style township with a grassy central square, and the spectacular road to the town of Cafayate and its surrounding vineyards.

Beside the main square in Salta stands a nineteenth century building that contains the MAAM. The focus of the museum is Inca culture, and the museum is most famous for the mummies of three children sacrificed by the Incas, five hundred years ago, at the summit of the dormant Llullaillaco volcano. The Incas believed that the children did not die, but met with their ancestors, who observed the Inca community from the summit of the mountain. The bodies were preserved by the freezing temperatures at 6,700 metres above sea level, and not by any particular mummification techniques, and they continue to be preserved using cryogenic methods.

Only one mummy is ever on view - they are rotated each six months. As a way of dealing with the controversial issue of displaying the mummies, visitors to the museum can choose whether or not to enter the display room.

The Incas occupied territories covering parts of modern-day Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina. They believed that some mountains were gods, and shrines have been found near the peaks of at least one hundred of them. About forty of these mountains can be found in the province of Salta. The Llullaillaco volcano is the highest peak in the region, and judging from the Inca ruins that can be found all the way up the mountain and the types of offerings, it was probably the most important.

As well as the mummies, artefacts from the graves are also displayed. They are made from a range of materials such as gold, silver, shells from the coast of Ecuador, feathers from the jungles to the east, wood, and fabric.

Even though the museum is quite small, it's interesting to know that the Inca empire stretched far into present-day Argentina. It's also interesting to see how the disciplines of mountaineering and archaeology have combined to form the relatively new discipline of high-altitude archaeology.

To find out more about Argentina and about Buenos Aires, read my book, An Argentine in my Kitchen.


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